x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Dh1.7m study to plan future of remote RAK villages

Communities in the south suffer from a lack of basic services, and a consultancy's five-month survey aims to address needs of 'all residents'.

There have been some developments in recent years in towns such as Kadra, above.
There have been some developments in recent years in towns such as Kadra, above.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // A Dh1.7 million survey to assess southern Ras al Khaimah's development needs for the next 20 years has been announced, five years after a similar project was instituted for the northern part of the emirate.

Villages in the south of RAK are much poorer than those in the north, which has experienced rapid growth in tourism, industry and urban development since the RAK Master Plan was approved in 2005. Transportation and infrastructure needs and the area's economy and demographics will also be studied. "In the north part of the emirate, we have a plan and it is working. The second part needs a plan," said Mohamed al Zaabi, the general manager of RAK Municipality. "The planning is not necessarily for economic development, it's for all residents."

Atkins, the UK's largest engineering and design consultancy, will take five months to complete the assessment, which will include consultation with residents and community leaders. Residents eager to meet the company's representatives said their top concerns are better roads, access to 24-hour health care and public spaces for families. "People don't know what happens here," said Layla Salem, 35, a customer service manager in Masafi. "We need roads, we need streets. There's no support for all the farms. Nobody has seen what they need."

An estimated 105,000 people live in rural RAK. Residents said their distance from RAK city means officials are often unaware of their problems. One example is Wadi Koob, a village that has had water shortages for the past two months. "One day there's water and then there's no water for five days," said Saeed Abdulla, 42, who complained but did not see improvement. Aid for agriculture was high on the list for Ali Khamis, a farmer from Masafi who said mango production on his farms had halved in two years due to infection. Still, it is not only mangoes that need better care, he said.

"Sheikh Khalifa [built] a hospital in Masafi, but for two years it didn't open. They have no doctors," Mr Khamis said. "Why doesn't the Ministry of Health make a small clinic to help old men and women? We're far from the hospital in Fujairah or Al Dhaid." The distance from healthcare facilities in rural areas is especially problematic for elderly women, said Aaesha al Mazrooei, 23, a teacher from Al Ghail.

"Sometimes in emergencies they will be shy or the contacts aren't there," she said. "Most of our family go to work in Abu Dhabi and most of the females are here. They cannot drive outside Al Ghail because they do not have a licence." Roads are another concern as potholes tend to increase in number and size on the drive south. There is a constant traffic rumble from lorries at quarries, which are often just a few kilometres from villages, on the rolling gravel plains near the Oman border.

Economic development in any form would be welcome as there are almost no other businesses in the area. Salem al Qaydi, 38, said the area has not changed in 10 years apart from an increase in quarrying, which has brought higher levels of pollution and related health issues. "Most people need houses because they cannot make their own houses. They do not have enough money," he said. Most houses in the area were built in the 1980s.

The lorries are also a danger for children commuting to schools in other villages, said his sister, a graduate of Al Ain University who did not want to be named. She wanted better local educational facilities. "The boys' school is very small. We don't have [kindergarten]. It's very far to go to Kadra. We also want buildings and houses. We want a park." There have been some visible improvements in the area in recent years. There is a new health clinic in Kadra and a plot of 30 houses built two years ago. A police station to replace the porta-cabin currently in use is under construction.

"Until now managers did not come and look," Mr Khamis said. "They say they want to do something, but they are all the time busy in RAK." @Email:azacharias@thenational.ae